The role of the poet, Mary Kinzie writes, is to engage the most profound subjects with the utmost in expressive clarity. The role of the critic is to follow the poet, word for word, into the arena where the creative struggle occurs. How this mutual purpose is served, ideally and practically, is the subject of this bracingly polemical collection of essays.
A distinguished poet and critic, Kinzie assesses poetry's situation during the past twenty-five years. Ours, she contends, is literally a prosaic age, not only in the popularity of prose genres but in the resultant compromises with truth and elegance in literature. In essays on "the rhapsodic fallacy," confessionalism, and the romance of perceptual response, Kinzie diagnoses some of the trends that diminish the poet's flexibility. Conversely, she also considers individual poets—Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, Howard Nemerov, Seamus Heaney, and John Ashbery—who have found ingenious ways of averting the risks of prosaism and preserving the special character of poetry.
Focusing on poet Louise Bogan and novelist J. M. Coetzee, Kinzie identifies a crucial and curative overlap between the practices of great prose-writing and great poetry. In conclusion, she suggests a new approach for teaching writers of poetry and fiction. Forcefully argued, these essays will be widely read and debated among critics and poets alike.